American Literature Section 4
15 April 2011
Nature as a Character in Hemingway's Work
The great respect Ernest Hemingway has for nature is manifested as an important character in his works. Although Hemingway cut down his prose to the minimum necessary to convey the action of his characters, he carefully advanced the theme of nature. Hemingway describes trees, leaves and needles, water, rain and bodies of water, rocks, wind and breezes and animals as part of the theme of nature. In so deliberately including the nature theme in his work, Hemingway elevates it as more than a part of the setting of the action to a point that nature plays a role or a character in the action.
Hemingway expresses important concepts and ideas in his writing in a deliberate manner. Within the structure of his sentences and paragraphs, he shapes the concept he is emphasizing by repeating it and using description to highlight it:
He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees. (Hemingway 1)
Here, the concept of a pine tree is emphasized through its placement both at the beginning and the end of a single, short sentence and the "fruit" of the tree, the needles, are emphasized to a greater degree by description as the "brown, pine-needled floor". Hemingway makes clear that pine tree is thought of both as a living evergreen tree, i.e., green in color, as well as a tree that sheds its needles to create a brown blanket of cover on the floor of the forest. Also, the pine trees are not simple and unmoving objects. The pine trees have acted to cover the floor with needles, and they sway, having been blown by the wind. The character then is not alone in a woods, but rather he is among the pine trees who are moving and acting in the scene as the character does.
Hemingway takes the emphasizing to a whole another literal level as he characterizes the interaction between the rain drops and rain and the tree and branches: “The trees were dripping in the rain. It was cold and the drops hung to the branches.” (Hemingway 1) Repetition is an obvious means by which Hemingway adds impact to the role that nature plays in his work:
He was sorry for the birds, especially the small delicate dark terns that were always flying and looking and almost never finding, and he thought, the birds have a harder life than we do except for the robber birds and the heavy strong ones. (Hemingway 29)
Hemingway does not simply state the character's idea that he feels sorry for a bird. Instead in this excerpt, Hemingway repeats birds, the type of birds, and the action of the birds over and over: "birds", "terns", "flying", "birds", "robber birds" and "heavy strong ones". In this way, Hemingway adds focus to what the character is saying, he feels sorrow toward a particular type of bird, a vulnerable or delicate one, one with a "harder life". Even beyond this, Hemingway implies that certain other birds are not worthy of sorrow; the "robber birds" who are "heavy" and "strong" are worthy of contempt. Through the repetition of the word "bird" or the bird-like descriptions, Hemingway expands his character's feelings and provides greater depth to what is stated. In this way, what is stated is given greater meaning, and the character also is given greater depth.
Hemingway could state things in single manner, and in that one manner only. However, his writing style is to repeat an important theme. In this way, there is a certain point to be proven and he makes it clear by underscoring it by repetition. In the excerpt below, Hemingway addresses a snowstorm: In a snowstorm it always seemed, for a time, as if there were no enemies. In a snowstorm the wind would blow a gale; but it blew a white cleanness and the air was full of a driving whiteness and all things were changed and when the wind stopped there would be the stillness. This was a big storm and he might as well...